Jul
23

Primary and Elemental

Two books in my current stack, having a conversation with each other:

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by educator par excellence, Sir Ken Robinson, PhD; and poet David Whyte’s Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity.

Robinson advocates for finding your Element: that place where your natural talent and passion lie. Whyte’s sea is the metaphorical setting for the voyage we take through our working lives.

I have been reading Robinson cover to cover, as research for a creativity and innovation program I’ve helped to develop. For Whyte’s poetic meditation, I tend to page through here and there, dipping my toes in the water as it were.

I love it when books begin to have a conversation with each other. Here’s how it went yesterday:

Robinson: “When people are in their Element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose, and well-being.”

Whyte: “We need, at every stage in our journey through work, to be in conversation with our desire for something suited to us and our individual natures.”

Robinson: these issues “are of fundamental importance in our lives and in the lives of our children, our students, and the people we work with.”

Whyte: “The human soul thrives on and finds courage from the difficult intimacies of belonging.”

Robinson: “Being in your element often means being connected with other people who share the same passions and have a common sense of commitment.”

Community, commitment, passion, our true natures. Sure makes sense. Sounds good. But now listen to Whyte:

“…but it is almost as if, afraid of those primary intimacies, we have unconsciously created a work world so secondary, so complex, and so busy and bullied by surface forces that, embroiled in those surface difficulties, we have the perfect busy excuse not to wrestle with the more essential difficulties of existence, the difficulties of finding a work and a life suited to our individual natures…”

Woa. If finding the Element is so elemental to our well being, and if the soul thrives in the intimacies of belonging, but that primacy is covered over with secondary busyiness in the working worlds we’ve created…how are we going to pull it off?

Let me bring in a third voice here, someone I ran across in my coursework. Good old A.H. Maslow:

“…out of this deeper self, out of this portion of ourselves of which we generally are afraid and therefore try to keep under control, out of this comes the ability to play—to enjoy, to fantasy, to laugh, to loaf, to be spontaneous—and, what’s most important for us here, creativity, a kind of intellectual play, which is a kind of permission to be ourselves.”

I’m going to build the next link here and say that I don’t think we can really attain the sort of Element-supporting intimacy with others that Whyte asks of us (and Robinson implies), if we’re not being ourselves. If that’s the case, let’s suppose in the service of the primary and the elemental, that it is play (especially play at work) which is our missing ingredient.

Or, to spin the words primary and elementary just a bit, maybe it’s time for recess.

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